Chiang Rai’s Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple definitely a must visit!

Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

If you are ever in Chiang Rai or even Chiang Mai, Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple (in Chiang Rai) is a must visit if you’re into art and or wats/Buddhism in general.  If you’re interested in getting to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, I’ve made a post about my experience with that HERE. After being inspired by Chiang Mai’s silver temple (post is here), I did a quick online search and found the White Temple and two other spots that looked interesting so I quickly made arrangements to go as I only had a few days left in Chiang Mai.

Not having any time to spare (I planned to visit 3 places in Chiang Rai), I used the Grab app and booked a ride to the white temple (at a cost of $200 TBH) immediately after stepping off the bus because I didn’t have time to mess around with the tuk tuk drivers or songthaew drivers. They are all at the back of the terminal, I didn’t see any at the front, it’ll probably be cheaper (highly dependent on your negotiating skills) to go via tuk tuk and songthaew. By the time I got to the front of the building, maybe 30 meters away, I got a message on the Grab app from the driver asking where I was and I replied with “in front of the building” to which I got a reply “me too”. So I looked around and didn’t see any car idling or coming down the street. Then someone came up to me and said, “Taxi?” to which I said “No, thanks” but he showed me the Grap app so I went with him. He was parked on the other side of the street. This was a first for me. Anyways, away we go! (Can you tell I’m excited?!)

If you’re expecting your usual wat, you are in for a huge surprise, as I was. Just to prep you a bit, here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia  “It is a contemporary, unconventional, privately-owned art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple.  It is owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed, constructed, and opened it to visitors in 1997.” I didn’t find monks praying/chanting inside the “white temple” nor “monk chat” sessions (at the time of this post) but I did find monks taking selfies outside and around the premises.  The décor is definitely not the norm for wats, here’s some examples of what you can find:

When I saw those statues/figures, I was like “what the @$#! Is this?! Is this even a legit wat?” but I did find it kind of cool in the way that those Hell themed parks are (like the one in Singapore that I posted about HERE). Definitely not what I was expecting to see but I liked it.

I guess a bit of historic reference is needed. Wat Rong Khun was a wat at one point in time but for whatever reason had no funds for repairs so Mr. Chalemchai Kositpipat,an artist, had taken it upon himself to completely fund and rebuild the temple to what you see today and he’s not done yet. The original plans for the entire compound is to have 9 buildings that include the “white temple” (which is the ubosot), a meditation and learning center, housing for monks, an art gallery, a hall of relics and others to be completed by 2070. I’d guess there will be a prayer hall and such for monks and the followers of Buddhism to practice their faith, it is a wat after all, right?

I wasn’t prepared for just how stunning it was and it just kept getting better and better the closer I got to it. Nor did I know exactly how big the compound was.  All the statues and buildings were well maintained and intricately detailed as was the rather large pond and water ways around the temple. Even the “under construction” buildings and areas that were off limits to the public looked neat and tidy unlike any construction site I’ve ever seen.

So the white structure that is being referred to as the White Temple is actually the ubosot but inside the ubosot you won’t find the usual things you would find in an ordination hall. Instead you’ll find murals of more modern day things like depictions of the World Trade Center attacks, Michael Jackson, Superman, fiery murals with demon faces and others. It was quite shocking to me as I didn’t expect to see that and frankly my mind is having problems coming to terms with it (I guess I was expecting all the usual religious statues and relics but done up in the same style as the exterior). Don’t get me wrong though, the artwork is stunning and that’s an understatement.  I can also understand the message that the artist is relaying but my mind is just so conflicted(?) …I don’t know, I don’t have the words. I would have loved to have taken photos to reflect upon and further contemplate what I saw and to show you but sadly no photos allowed inside and there are ushers reminding you as you walk in.  You won’t find any of the usual donation boxes or incense pots or the offerings of food and drinks at the altars inside, to be honest, I can’t even remember seeing an altar in there.

When you’re done with the ubosot and pond area, there are other areas to check out such as the washroom. Wait, what?! Yup, you should check it out. This building is at least 2 levels, done up in gold with intricate statues all around. Just looking at it you wouldn’t be able to tell it’s the toilets. Lucky, I didn’t need to use the facilities because standing in front of the building, I couldn’t tell where the “Mens room” was because both paths leading  into the building had signs in Thai with the English word “women” on it. However, there are images of both male and female on both sides of the building! Being really short on time, I didn’t go any closer but judging from the people buzzing about maybe I should have.

Toilets at Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Beside the toilet building is the gift shop with the usual gift shop items as well smaller prints and art cards of the artist’s work. On the other side there is a mural/display depicting a scene with the Monkey King/God, Sun Wukong, complete with bells you can ring. A bit further down the path is an area where you can offer incense and fruits and prayers in front of a Buddha statue in a jungle themed alcove.

There is a rather large, open air pavilion type structure which has a large floor area for praying as well as chairs. I”m guessing this where the monks would chant/pray. Within this pavilion are the more traditional Buddhist  statues and artwork. Right outside is a booth selling thin metallic leaves you can write your name and message on then hang them on the tree like structures, which when full, the leaves get moved to create the roof of the covered walkway, pretty clever right?

Behind all of this is an area with another  temple, I think, all done up in gold. I didn’t have enough time to check it out. It was around this time that I realized that I wouldn’t be able to see the other two if I spent any more time at the White Temple so I rushed past this area, reluctantly.

As I was rushing by things, I saw the Mr. Chalermchai Kositpipat’s art gallery/museum and I had to go in.  I’m really, really impressed with his style of art. The gallery doesn’t look big from the outside but it’s pretty big and has a decent sized gift shop area. Yup, I bought some art cards I just couldn’t resist. Lucky, I had time and space constraints or I would have bought more and bigger pieces too. Now, at this point, I had to make a choice. It was clear now that I couldn’t see all three of the places I had planned and if I didn’t leave now I wouldn’t have enough time to enjoy the second spot so completely finish this awesome place or hit the next spot? There is an entrance fee of $50 TBH for foreigners but free for Thai people and even with the bus fare I found Wat Rong Khun, the white temple, well worth the trip and so I left with the promise of . . . I’ll Be Back.

Oh almost forgot, there are eateries, snacks and gift shops in a plaza like area right beside the wat so you can plan to have a meal or two there. I hadn’t eaten anything yet so I just grabbed a couple of Gatorades and croissant like things from a shop and off I went to the next stop. Again the Grab driver was already there, in the parking lot of the plaza, lucky me.

NOTE: Even on an overcast day such as it was the day I was there, the buildings are really, really bright and glittery. I lowered the brightness of the images (a fair bit) in this post to better define the details, so bring a pair of sunglasses just in case it gets too bright.

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Chiang Mai’s silver temple, Wat Sri Suphan

Chiang Mai’s silver temple, Wat Sri Suphan

Honorable mention on my top 5 list of must visit wats in Chiang Mai is Wat Sri Suphan.  Once you reach the premises, which is located slightly off a main road (you won’t be able to see it from the main road), you’ll immediately see the uniqueness of Wat Sri Suphan. The Ubusot, both interior and exterior is all silver. Maybe not pure/real silver but I’m pretty sure it’s not paint because it gets really bright when the sun hits it. I think it’s silver gilding but don’t quote me on that.

I rode the Songthaew from just outside the Tha Phae Gate at a cost of $80 TBH and paid an entrance fee of $50 TBH. The entrance fee comes with a sticker you have to put on your shirt and a small bottle of water. After paying the entrance fee I proceeded to walk towards the front of the silver temple (I didn’t know it was the ubusot at the time). Then I walked around it and ended up outside the “barricade.” Yup, the premises is that small! I didn’t even get inside or the other side of the outside. So I went back to the entrance and was stopped by a ticket guy, I pointed to my sticker, of course, my sticker wasn’t there. Luckily the lady I had paid my entrance fee to, recognized me (there weren’t many people there, like less than  10) and I was able to go back in.  So the entrance fee is just to check out the silver ubusot and the other silver statues and the odd gold one here and there.  Both the interior and exterior are very intricately detailed, much more so than the other wats I’ve seen in Chiang Mai, thus far. I can’t imagine having to polish all that. The interior of the ubosot is pretty incredible, all silver except the one big, gold Buddha statue. Even the floor is silver, metallish but not slippery. As customary, no shoes allowed and women aren’t allowed in either. There aren’t many donation boxes around, less that the other wats (that I’ve noticed) but they do have a lot of things you can buy and leave as offerings.

Once you’re done with the silver temple, you can check out the prayer hall and stupa, which is outside the paid section so it’s free. In the vicinity are stalls selling food, drinks and souvenirs too. All in all the premises is quite small so it won’t take up much time and so worth the visit, in my opinion. I spent about an hour there but as usual around closing time so I didn’t get to go into the prayer hall and many of the food stalls were closed. Oh, if you do get a chance to go and it’s really sunny, bring your sunglasses because it can get very bright. If you go around sunset, you can get some pretty cool / weird color reflections on the silver temple and on the silver statues too.

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Chedi Luang Chiang Mai’s largest Chedi

Chedi Luang Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chedi Luang is second on my top 3 wat’s in Chiang Mai. The first being Doi Suthep, you can check out my post “Doi Suthep” for more info. If you’re ever in Chiang Mai, be sure to check this place out, their hours of operation are between 6am and 6pm and being near the centre of the walled city it’s walkable if you’re already in the ancient city. It’s free to enter and will take you at least 30 minutes just to walk around and see everything without stopping for photos or for closer looks. I took around two hours and still wasn’t quite satisfied with seeing everything but then again, I like to linger, soak in the atmosphere, feel the energy etc and look for a photo to make.

The modern day property that the Chedi sits on is a merger with two other wats (Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin) so you can enjoy visiting them as well. When you walk onto the premises, the huge ornate prayer hall is quite impressive and houses a 14th century Buddha statue, I found the sheer golden-ness inside truly amazing. As per the norm at all the wats, if you want to go in and check out the interior, you have to take your foot wear off. Don’t worry they have shoe racks you can use though, just don’t forget which rack you put your shoes on, ha ha.

Chedi Luang Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

If you’re short on time, I suggest you walk around the prayer hall and check out the stupa first because it’s truly unique. Why is Chedi Luang so special? Construction began in 1391 so it’s old, withstood some natural disasters and is partially rebuilt. At one point in time, it was the largest structure in Chiang Mai and home to the highly revered, original Emerald Buddha. It’s by far the biggest Chedi/Stupa I’ve ever seen and I can only imagine and wonder how grand it was when it was fully intact. I’d recommend a sunrise or sunset visit for some additional color in the sky and you’d probably miss most of the tour crowd too.

After admiring all for sides of the Stupa, there are also a couple of structures housing statues and other religious pieces including the shrine for the “City Pillar” guarded by canons. Yup, I’ve never seen any religious structure guarded by canons before. I had to Google it, and found out that “City Pillars” are very highly revered pieces of architecture in ancient Thai culture. These pillars were erected at entrances of new cities or at major shrines for housing guardian spirits. Another structure that I found pretty cool was the huge golden Buddha lying down statue. Very detailed and I think covered with gold leaf. I didn’t get a chance to go inside the other two wats nor the smaller viharn so I definitely will need to revisit Chedi Luang, it’s so worth it!

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a jewel in Chiang Mai’s crown

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

If you’re ever in Chiang Mai and can only choose one temple to visit, choose Wat Phra That on Doi Suthep. Doi Suthep is the mountain West of Chiang Mai, the smaller of the two in that area. The other being Doi Pui and together make up the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Although I haven’t been to every single temple in Chiang Mai, I have been to several and what makes Wat Phra That so special? It’s reportedly the temple that has a Buddha Relic, a piece of his shoulder, if I heard correctly. Now I didn’t get to see the Relic but this wat, to me, has a tranquil/serene “feel” to it, more so than any of the other temples I’ve been to in the Chiang Mai region. I truly lack the words to describe that feeling. No, it’s not like a life changing OMG Hallelujah kinda feeling…it’s more like a peaceful at ease feeling. I imagine “resting in peace” would feel like this. I’m not particularly religious but I do believe in certain principles from different religions. Yes, I’m a “confused child” haha.

Back to the Doi Suthep and one of Chiang Mai’s crown jewels, Wat Phra That. I’ll just do what the locals do and refer to the area as Doi Suthep. So how can one get to Doi Suthep? There are a number of ways both public and private. If you choose the private way, have a read of my post “Did I get scammed in Chiang Mai” for my recounting on private hire fiasco/scam that was run on me whilst going to a different “must see” Chiang Mai crown jewel. The most convenient way is to take a red songthaew to Doi Suthep. It can be as easy as flagging one down anywhere around the old city. A songthaew is a pickup truck with the back converted to bench seating. They operate like a public bus/shared taxi but with negotiable fare. The way to get a ride is you flag one down (like flagging a taxi) or they will honk at you, in which case just wave back if you want them to stop. Before you hop in, you have to negotiate your fare. The price will depend on where you’re going, how many passengers already in the songthaew and probably the way you look. So the better dressed you are, the less they will be willing to drop the prices. The number of people already on board will help decrease the price as well and/or if there’s no one already on board, you can pay a bit more and the driver will not pick up anyone along the way to your destination. Trips within the old city are $30-$40 TBH (as told to me by the hotel staff and $30 TBH is written on all the red songthaews (I can’t read Thai so don’t know what the context is) but as soon as you get outside the walled city they will start at $100 TBH (at least that’s always been the starting point whenever I asked). There are also different marked songthaews, the markings will indicate which attraction they are going to, so you can look out for those as those may have people in them already going to the same place making it cheaper for you to tag along (or at least you won’t be “forced” to pay the full single rider fare). If you prefer to hire out a songthaew (have it all to yourself) you can probably negotiate a price for him/her to wait for you and give you a ride back. If not, there are a lot of songthaews waiting up there to give passengers rides back into town. The only drawback is that they will not leave until the songthaew is full with 8 passengers so if you’re first on, there may be a wait. For me, I was lucky, I was the 8th. As I was about to pay the driver, 1/2 the other passengers started to negotiate a lower fare but to no avail so ya that’s something to consider too. Just to give you an idea, hiring out a songthaew cost me $350 TBH, I needed to get there as fast as possible but coming back only cost $80 TBH. The other public way are guided tours. Your hotel lobby will have info and be able to help you out, or you can find tour agent kiosks everywhere, seriously you can’t walk a block without seeing one. These are convenient if have minimal time and need a guide to show you around and/or rush you plus you won’t have to worry about haggling prices everywhere, where to go to the ticket booth etc. The private vehicles are in the form of metered taxis although you have to specifically book one from somewhere as they are nowhere to to be found on the streets. The only time I saw any were at the airport and twice in town dropping guests at a hotel. I’m pretty sure they will be the most expensive private car option with Grab taxi being the second most expensive. The least expensive is the non grab, private hires which the hotel can arrange for you and the tuk tuk’s (they look like motorized rickshaws) which you can flag on the street. Note: if you get motion sickness then take some motion sickness pills if you plan on taking the songthaew or tuk tuk. Also try to get on a newer model vehicle or at least one that doesn’t look beat up as that will affect the bumpiness of your ride as well as the amount of exhaust (if any) you’ll be subjected to.

Stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Local tribes girls on the stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Local tribes girls on the stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Local tribes girls on the stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Now that transport is sorted out and you’re at the drop off point of Doi Suthep, there’s two routes you can take up to the temple but first, there are shops/markets by the road side you may want to check out. If not, make your way to either the steps with the big archway (the left most stair case as you’re facing the mountain) if you’re looking to walk up to the Wat. If walking up stairs is not your cup of tea, take the path on the right where you can see ticket booths. That’s where you can buy tickets to ride the gondola up. I didn’t take the gondola so I can’t comment on the fees nor the ride. Taking the stairs isn’t that bad. you go up a short flight of stairs and it opens up to a plaza of sorts with statues to see and more shops and restaurants. From this plaza you can see the flight of stairs leading up to the Wat, kind of steep but not scary steep. If you see adorable little kids dressed in (I’m guessing) traditional attire of their culture, it’s ok to take photos but be prepared to offer a donation. They won’t be shy in asking for it. Although I had sniped a few shots of them from afar, pretty much without them knowing, as they were busy posing for other photo’s, I still walked by and gave them each a tip. I couldn’t help but feel sad, I didn’t notice their parents around and they were just hanging out, walking around the stairs. When you reach the top of the stairs you’ll be at the entrance to the temple area (not the temple grounds itself) and you’ll have to detour to the right because that is where the ticket office is and a snacks shop in case you need to buy a drink. Entrance fee is $30 TBH. Having taken care of the entrance fee you can enter the premises of where the actual temple is, you can see the stairs into the Wat in the photo below. The premises is quite big with lots to see and you can walk around with your shoes on but if you want to enter the Wat grounds, you have to take off your shoes at the designated area about a hop, skip and a jump away from the Wat’s entrance. No big deal, it’s relatively clean, as in free from debris as you can kinda see in the photo below. There’s more than enough room for shoes on the racks but there’s shoe lockers behind the benches too, just don’t forget where you put your shoes.

Pavilion area provides shade and benches for rest and removal of shoes.

SO MUCH GOLD!!! Was my first reaction as stepped through the entrance into the wat. I don’t know if it was gold leaf, gold paint, gold plated or what but boy was it impressive. Pretty much in the center of the temple grounds is the gold stupa with the prayer path around it. There are flowers you can buy and hold as you walk and pray on this path and then offer them to an altar of your choice. This prayer path is in between the stupa and a stone fence that has opening at the corners for entering and exiting the prayer path. On top of this fence, on two of the sides, are various statues and religious relics. Lining the walls to the temple complex are altars, prayer halls, statues and other religious artifacts. There are monks walking around doing various duties as well from what I saw when I was there such as “monk chats,” blessing ceremonies, sweeping of the grounds, putting up decorations etc. Along the walls that define the Wat grounds are open air but sheltered corridors with religious statues and artifacts and enough space for visitors to pray in front of. These corridors are sometimes broken up by rooms housing religious statue(s) with all the prayer amenities like kneeling mats, incense pots etc. There is also a larger prayer hall which more detailed and ornate and is where the monk chats/blessing were held. If you want the on location tourist shot, look for the golden tree/umbrella statue. This is the designated spot where an “in house photographer” will take the “tourist shot” that all the marketing shots were taken. The spot features a golden umbrella (or maybe it’s a bamboo tree), under which you’ll stand with the golden stupa in the background and hopefully a blue sky with a fluffy cloud or two. There will be assistants walking around that area trying to drum up business. If you don’t want to engage their services you can just wait until the umbrella is vacant and go get your shot. Although I planned to photograph everything, I kinda forgot to or maybe just too “taken in” by beauty, splendor, calmness and serenity of this place I really don’t have the words so here’s a few shots:

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

When you’re done inside the Wat, have a look around the grounds. There’s a huge hall, gift shop (the usual items that you’d find in a temple’s gift shop are cheaper here than in any other place that I’ve been to), café type eatery, prayer bells, prayer halls, large statues, defunct museum (well that’s what it looked like to me) and a very ornate pavilion that over looks the valley. If you walk to the railing you will see the city of Chiang Mai and the airport, it’s quite a view if the weather is clear. I visited in early May and got ok weather, a bit too smoggy for detailed images but still a spectacular view. There were not many people so I was able to set up my tripod for some panoramic shots however I did get interrupted by a tourist who came right up next to me to shoot her panoramic shots, so I took some candid profile shots of her instead of landscape shots for a minute or so, lol. There also a very beautiful, colorful and well landscaped flower garden. It wasn’t until I was looking through the photos back at the hotel that I realized the flowers were fake.

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

I spent 3 hours at Doi Suthep not including travel time but could have easily spent hours more. I didn’t visit any of the markets or explore any of the areas not part of the temple grounds. I was there around dusk and the sunset sets behind the mountain but with the smog/haze/clouds it wasn’t that ‘wow’ Perhaps sunrise would be better as it would rise over the city when you’re viewing from the pavilion.

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Free On-Air Classes – Week of 6/9

COME CHECK OUT THESE FREE ONLINE CLASSES !

A radiant dragon

For all you creatives, out there if you haven’t heard of Creative Live, you may be missing out. I always browse their site for anything to do with photography (including the legal and business aspects as well as the heavier side of image editing) and sign up for whatever I find interesting. I’ve watched many free tutorials and classes and have made a few purchases as well after watching the free live stream. I’m of the opinion that Creative Live is a very valuable resource even if you only watch the free classes! Check Out CreativeLive’s Free On-Air Classes.

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FULL DISCLOSURE: Please note that the course/class links have my affiliate code in them and should you choose to purchase a class, I may get a referral fee. The links direct you to the page where you can watch the course FOR FREE on the stated date(s).

Consider following me for updates to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

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